Why do governments struggle so much with IT?
By Ben Pluzynk, Director and Country Manager ANZ, Freshworks
Wednesday, 06 July, 2022
The 2021 Australian Local Government CEO Index found that local government leaders nationally were concerned about digital transformation, with this being the highest-ranking priority for council CEOs.
Over the past 10 years or so, IT has become easier to adopt and deploy than ever before, with the pandemic only accelerating the need for transformation. Greater transparency, agile operations and protection against increasing security threats have become private sector essentials since many employees started working from home, while changing policies and innovative workplaces have also come into sharper focus in the last two years. Yet, despite all this, public sector organisations are hesitant to embrace change.
It’s generally a given that the private sector will be ahead of the public sector when it comes to IT. And that’s no surprise given the resources and will to innovate that private companies often have. But it’s now the year 2022 and many local and federal governments are stuck back in the early 2000s as far as their IT capability is concerned. But given how much easier technology has become to adopt and deploy over the past few years, why is the public sector still so far behind?
While a great deal of investment and planning goes into developing and maintaining Australia’s infrastructure, leaders are often faced with a lack of integration and cross-team communication, and aging legacy IT services. This can make it tough to implement digital transformation and, ultimately, impactful change within the community.
Lack of leadership and institutional support
Digital transformation is not seen as an issue that requires the same form of enlightened leadership as a pandemic response, despite the financial investments and strategies mentioned earlier. Introducing new systems or upgrading existing systems, especially ones that have a long-standing legacy and are complex, can be disruptive, time-consuming and expensive. As a result, it’s important for leadership to embrace and commit to these transformations, while also receiving support and collaboration from others across the sector.
In Australia, it is very common for government agencies across all states to be hesitant about sharing information with one another, and sometimes even within their own localities. In fact, privacy and security was seen as one of the main barriers to change, along with policy bottlenecks, bureaucratic inertia, capability constraints and a number of other factors, according to a Deloitte study on digital government transformation in Australia. With Material of Government (MOG) changes every few years, it further dampens the digital innovation drive that local councils would generally have. Australia in general has the skills and technology to be a digital nation, but for it to be successful, it needs decisive political leadership and encouragement from all sectors.
Availability of resources
Depending on where you look, there are great gaps in the knowledge base of employees and the public, as well as a digital divide, meaning some agencies and institutions are significantly better equipped and prepared for digitisation than others.
Additionally, in the public sector, unless there is a catalyst or a genuine reason to work rapidly — like a pandemic — most things progress at a slower pace. To overcome this, especially in the age of COVID-19, government agencies needed to come together, share information in more transparent ways and work towards closing the gap between the digitally connected and the unconnected, ensuring that everyone has access to the same digital platforms and opportunities.
Although the barriers to digital transformation in the public sector haven’t changed much in the last few years, the drivers for transformation have increased significantly, especially since the onset of the pandemic.
During the height of the pandemic, we saw the state governments create QR codes and apps to help citizens stay informed and keep them safe. This has also allowed other agencies to lead the way when it comes to transformations and implementations. In some sectors, it has even spurred agencies to transform in a way they never thought possible.
Success story: A collaboration between three South Australian councils
Many public sector organisations in Australia have successfully transformed their digital operations, including three South Australian councils that used collaboration to overcome the challenges.
In 2018, Freshworks formed a partnership between the Cities of Charles Sturt (CCS), Marion (COM) and Port Adelaide Enfield (PAE) with the shared goal of creating impactful change within the community. To enable collaboration and knowledge-sharing across business functions, their vision was to align IT infrastructure and applications, project by project, with the service desk providing the key opportunity for alignment.
Ageing legacy software and differing service desk solutions across each of the councils made effective collaboration, cross-team communication and information sharing a challenge. To tackle these problems head on, the councils replaced their systems with Freshservice (ITSM), helping to streamline internal operations and deliver a delightful employee experience. As a result, they saw a 10% decrease in phone calls and were able to migrate over 1500 IT assets — changing the way they work and manage assets.
So what’s next?
In today’s dynamic and digital-first business environment, IT is expected to not just ‘keep the lights on’, but also enable agencies to deliver on citizen expectations. Smart investments in the digital transformation of the public sector will have massive implications, with the potential to improve societal wellbeing through more efficient, secure, responsive and human-centric services, as well as being a driver for economic growth. By leveraging tools such as artificial intelligence and bots, agents and employees can find a solution faster based on previous experience. Low-code or no-code platforms such as Freshworks continue to innovate and are user-friendly so you don’t need to be an engineer to rebuild a process or a workflow.
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